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Man with tiny brain shocks doctors (2007) (newscientist.com)
44 points by mtuncer 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

If this much of the brain is not completely necessary for its function then there are all kinds of questions raised.

What is the minimum viable human brain? If our brains are indeed highly-redundant scale-free networks, would it be possible to eliminate a precisely targeted 99% of neurons without significant degradation? Can we simulate 1% of a brain on today's supercomputers? How about emulating an existing brain? Do animals have the raw hardware to match or exceed human intelligence? Can we download human 'software' into modified animals instead of machines? Are we already being simulated?

This would keep me up at night too.

This reminds me of dropout regularization where you improve a neural network by removing random neurons from the neural network.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dropout_(neural_networks) and https://youtu.be/u4alGiomYP4?t=33m53s

Dropout is only used during training a neural network and also neurons are turned off not removed.

Well, the brain is constantly trained and used. :)

Hemispherectomy patients do not decrease in IQ as much as one might assume. Typically less than 15 points. Some have no change and others even a slight improvement.

While not directly comparable, as these are brains with massive problems, you don't remove half just for the fun of it, it's still a testament to the resilience and redundancy of the organ.

“If something happens very slowly over quite some time, maybe over decades, the different parts of the brain take up functions that would normally be done by the part that is pushed to the side”

The way I see it, the Human Brain increases its efficiency (Assuming the 10% Brain Efficiency Myth is true) in such cases, to be able to do all the work that otherwise an entire Brian would have done. I'm curious what would happen if we were to somehow gradually disable parts of the brain, ensuring all functions of the Human Body are still intact, and then suddenly bring all of it back.

There is a limit to the flexibility of the brain. In a compensated brain, it is very likely that an injury that would normally not have any effect on function would have devastating consequences.

To answer your question, I'd imagine that it likely depends on the timescale. People with TIAs have decrease in function that lasts minutes to hours, and on return of proper bloodflow, might take days to fully recover. You might see this as people who completely lose speech during the TIA, and then have word hunting for several days.

A brain that adapted to gradually diminished function, say as a result of microvascular changes, over the course of months to years would likely experience the same debilitation if there was a sudden permanent change.

> Assuming the 10% Brain Efficiency Myth is true

It is not. It's one of those things that qualifies as "Not Even Wrong".

There are a few recorded examples of this. Peter Watts had quite a good blog post on them a while back:


About 50% of the examples have above average IQ (he says).

That reminds me to read Blindsight again. I find Peter Watts' novels disturbing but fascinating.

I’ve heard that most processing in the brain happens near the surface, while the central brain regions are more connective. Is that accurate and could it be a factor here? If he’s got otherwise mostly normal brain function, my gut reaction is that maybe those connections were just displaced or formed in other ways.

Perhaps the reduced volume brain is to some extent topologically normal? Same connections, same areas, different shape.

Article says his IQ is 75, which is quite low.

Well below average, but not disablingly low. From what I understand, he functions normally, despite missing most of his brain.

But he has a job in the civil service and a wife, which are more useful indicators than a high IQ

Even if his IQ was 100+ it doesn't necessarily indicate other kinds of loss... Everyone knows IQ is a poor metric and that intelligence comes in many different forms.

I'm wondering what he lacks that is not outwardly apparent from his job and family life:

Everyone with a biologically normal brain has potential to use it for sophisticated abstract thought in all kinds of ways... or they can (and for the majority do - not judging) spend their whole life not using much of that potential at all. Does this man have less of that potential? is he actually operating on maximum capacity right now as a civil servant?

There are quite a few examples with IQs over 100 too:


I'm skeptical of these images. I can't find any follow-up scans on Lorber's patient, despite such an unbelievable finding. Unfortunately John Lorber has passed away (1996), making this patient impossible to track down.

Interestingly someone took it upon themselves to reclaim these images in 2012...


Only to get retracted in 2016.

There's nothing unbelievable in this findings regardless of authenticity of these images. I know about at least one such case here in Russia, from my own fathers career, and he told me there were others. It's something people know about for quite a long time, at least in our country.

It is the particulars here that are unbelievable to me. Normal after hemespherectomy - sure, depending on the lobe, you will have fully intact language, hemiblindness but probably can regain motor function on the effected side after some time (depending on age). No cerebellum, nbd, cerebellum does not plan, initiate, or stop motor movement - it only corrects errors and has some putative cognitive roles.

What we have here is far more extreme: massive cortical tissue loss and compression, bilaterally. His striatum looks completely gone. There are many well studied and documented patients with far less tissue loss who suffer major cognitive and learning deficits. That makes this case here remarkable to me.

It's probably not a tissue loss, rather it's just undeveloped, as it was in the case I mentioned above. But nevertheless this probably should push nervous system to its limits to compensate such deficiency, so it's quite remarkable indeed.

I love the idea that one of us might be an example of a high performing "tiny brain".

What if it's you? Or me? How would we know without a brain scan? Would it matter? Would it change the way you think about yourself and stop you trying?

Probably best to never find out!

Another thread on HN points to article [1] that starts:

For decades now, I have been haunted by the grainy, black-and-white x-ray of a human skull. [...] The image hails from a 1980 [...]

Anyway to actually trace back that patient? Do we know who he is (I would like to read about his story and daily life; nothing creepy).

Do we know if he/she is still alive??

[1] http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=6116

The linked article within that story about the other person missing the entire cerebellum is also interesting.

It highlights how popular press write science stories too.

The article on absent cerebellum says 50% of neurons are there, clearly a smaller cross-sectional area is missing but this statement serves to increase the magnitude of the issue to the layman ... but in the article where it appears most of the cerebellum is present this key point on brain structure isn't noted; that would reduce the apparent magnitude of the injury.

That may be happenstance, or otherwise unintentional, of course.

Reminds me of the CTO at my last job.

Nice title, one of those which people definitely click. But is the add really necessary?

It might be that he has a usual number of neurons but squished.


Please don't do this here.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14585564 and marked it off-topic.

What CNN article on Trump has to do with him??

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